TRAVEL CLINIC

Your questions answered by our panel of travel experts, including a doctor and a lawyer
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The Independent Travel
we want to party like it's 1999

We are thinking of having a big family party in some exotic destination to celebrate the arrival of the year 2000. I understand that tour operators are already taking bookings for this event. Do you have any suggestions?

Max Stalker

Aberystwyth

Jill Crawshaw replies It's an exciting thought - where to spend the turn of the century ? I've been getting suggestions from the travel companies for months now, with more coming every week, although they do tend to be on the expensive side, and many have not been priced yet. I reckon that by l January 1999 there will be hundreds, if not thousands of "unique" special offers.

Jetset (0990 555 757) have come out with a special little brochure, with New Zealand in general and specifically Gisborne City being the first to see in the year 2000AD. Starting in Auckland on 27 December, you fly to Gisborne on the 31st for a giant party there; the approximate price of pounds 2974 includes all of the celebrations, international and internal flights, accommodation plus a 4-day exploration of the country with a car that is provided, returning home 2 weeks later.

Other offers include New York (pounds l000+) for 4 days, with an extension to include 8 days in Orlando and Western Florida, Sydney (pounds l952) for 7 days and the Pacific (pounds 2499) for 2 weeks which includes seeing 2000AD in twice, in Tonga and Western Samoa.

Upmarket tour operator Abercrombie & Kent (0171 730 9600) also have a brochure of Millennium offers, though the prices quoted are for December 1996 which they reckon will increase by 25-40 per cent. They also require substantial advance deposits.

Their Great Africa Air Cruise leaves London on 27 December via Luxor to Victoria Falls for the New Year celebrations, then continues to Zanzibar, and on to the Ngorongoro crater, Serengeti, Nairobi and Masai Mara - costing around pounds 11,500.

Their suggestion to celebrate 2000AD whilst gazing at the splendour of the Taj Mahal is romantic enough, with the week's holiday costing something under pounds 2,000. There are also cruises that explore the icescapes of Antarctica (current price pounds 4642) or the somewhat warmer climes of the Galapagos off Ecuador's Pacific coast, currently costing pounds 3340. Bali and Marrakesh are also on the programme, as is a weekend at the Mena House Hotel in Cairo currently priced at pounds 954.

Australia will enjoy a double celebration - the year 2000, and the Olympic Games in the same year. Hotels there are, apparently, almost fully booked.

The Orient Express is to run its original rail service to Constantinople which will take five days: prices to be announced. The British Airways Concorde fleet will shuttle between London and New York, crossing three time zones, so you'll never know what time it is. In Rome, a Ben Hur- style chariot race is to run from the Imperial Forum to the Circus Maximus.

Those who want to avoid the whole business could go to Nepal, where they use a different calendar, and there seems little point in celebrating the year 2050, while in Ethiopia it will still be 1993.

If you want to be patriotic, the place to be is ... Ramsgate in Kent to see the first sun rise of the year 2000 five minutes and 41 seconds before London.

Remember though, while it's fine to celebrate the coming of 2000 AD, the new millennium doesn't actually start until l January 2001.

Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster.

REFUND RAGE

LAST YEAR I booked our family holiday through a local travel agent and with a leading tour operator. A few days before our departure the travel agent informed me that it was no longer possible for us to stay at the hotel of our choice. They offered an alternative but this was of a lower quality and not in the same resort. I rejected the offer and sought compensation. The travel agent told me I was only entitled to the return of the monies that I had paid, plus pounds 40 per full paying adult.

I consider this sum derisory and goes no way to meeting my family's disappointment. Do you agree?

Pauline A. Mason

Saffron Walden

Ian Skuse replies: If your holiday is a package then the Package Travel Regulation 1992 applies. Under Regulation 13, if your tour operator cancels the holiday then you are entitled to take up an equivalent holiday or to have a full refund - and in either case to receive compensation.

If your tour operator is a member of ABTA, it is not permitted to cancel your holiday after you have paid in full, unless for exceptional reasons outside its control. Again, the ABTA Code of Conduct states that the tour operator must offer reasonable compensation.

Most tour operators limit the payments they agree to make in their booking conditions. This is usually on a sliding scale depending on the number of days remaining to departure when they cancel. The figure of pounds 40 does not surprise me but I can understand your disappointment.

It is possible to ask the courts to decide whether pounds 40 is reasonable. If you have received a refund of all the monies paid, then the court will want to hear how you tried to rescue your holiday by booking with another company.

But there is a difference between a holiday company cancelling many weeks before your departure date, when you have time to book a different holiday, and - as in your case - where the cancellation is just before departure. I think you would have a strong argument that pounds 40 is insufficient compensation.

HOW TO TREK AT HIGH ALTITUDES WITHOUT LOSING YOUR BREATH

My wife is trying to persuade me to go trekking with her in Nepal this summer, which is all very well except that I occasionally have breathing difficulties when I exert myself. What neither I nor my wife really understand is what difference the altitude will make. We are not planning to ascend higher than about 15,000ft. What kind of problems might I face? What precautions should I take?"

Malcolm Caesar

Tunbridge

Dr Goodyer replies: I am a bit concerned that you have breathing difficulties on exertion. Do you have a history of any lung or heart problems? This should definitely be checked out with your GP before you consider a trip of this sort.

The general problem for trekkers at altitudes over 10,000ft is that of developing acute mountain sickness (AMS). The exact cause of this is unknown, but it is related to the reduced atmospheric pressure at high altitude. The first symptoms of AMS can include headache, nausea, insomnia, dizziness and loss of appetite. This can be very unpleasant, but can rapidly develop into malignant AMS where breathing problems may be accompanied with abnormal behaviour, loss of consciousness and eventually coma. If corrective action is not taken quickly, malignant AMS can be fatal.

The way to avoid these problems is by making sure you take a slow ascent when over about 8,000ft in order to acclimatise. There are various schedules that can be adopted depending on local conditions; if you are travelling with a good company it should have worked out a reasonable schedule or alternatively local advice is often available from rescue associations. A safe ascent may include climbing not more 1,000-1,500ft a day or having rest days every 3,000ft. Mountaineers will often climb high during the day, returning to lower altitudes to sleep and rest.

Definitely do not climb any higher on experiencing the first symptoms of AMS and if things don't improve after a few days then descend to a lower altitude. If there are any signs of malignant AMS then descend by 2,000-3,000ft. This descent should begin without delay, if necessary being carried down by others on the trek.

Dr Larry Goodyer is superintendent of the Nomad Pharmacy (3-4 Turnpike Lane, London N8, Tel: 0181-889 7014) which specialises in catering for travellers' medical needs.

Correction

In last week's letters' page we incorrectly stated that British citizens still need visas to visit Bulgaria. In fact, since the recent change of government in Sofia, the visa requirement has been dropped.

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